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CSBG Archive

The 75 Most Memorable Moments in DC Comics History – Day 10

Okay, in case you didn’t see the introduction, the concept is that each day up to and including the 31st of July, I’ll be posting six of the most memorable moments from DC Comics’ 75-year history. On the 31st, you folks will get a chance to pick your Top 10 out of the 100 choices. I’ll tabulate the votes and I’ll debut the Top 75 Most Memorable Moments in DC Comics History starting on August 8th. In the meantime, feel free to post suggestions for moments you think should be featured either at our Twitter account (twitter.com/csbg), our Facebook page (facebook.com/comicsshouldbegood) or just e-mail me (bcronin@comicbookresources.com)!

Here’s the next six moments! And click here for the master list of all the moments posted so far!

NOTE: Each day of moments will almost certainly contain some spoilers for past comic books, plus each day might include content that originally appeared in “Mature Readers Only” comics, so be forewarned!

53. Three young people find a calling (Superboy #147)

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E. Nelson Bridwell and Pete Costanza deliver the iconic origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It is pretty weird that it took a decade before the Legion even HAD an origin, but it’s stuck ever since!

54. Coast City is destroyed (Superman Vol. 2 #80)

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Dan Jurgens steps up the Reign of the Supermen by revealing that the Cyborg Superman is actually a VILLAIN working with the alien despot, Mongul! He demonstrates this in dramatic fashion when he and Mongul destroy Hal Jordan’s home of Coast City!

55. Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (Batman: The Killing Joke)

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You don’t get much more shocking than the sight of the former heroine known as Batgirl getting shot in the gut by the Joker in front of her father, Commissioner Gordon. You don’t have to LIKE the scene to appreciate that it has become etched in the memories of fans everywhere. Alan Moore wrote it and Brian Bolland drew it.

56. Superman returns (Kingdom Come #1)

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At the end of the first issue of Kingdom Come (by Mark Waid and Alex Ross), after a long time in self-imposed exile, Superman is lured back to the mainstream world to help curb an infestation of “modern” superheroes. Little does he know that his return is going to set the world down a path that might lead to the annihilation of everyone!

57. Batman and Joker share a laugh (Batman: The Killing Joke)

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While quite a few folks were put off by Joker shooting Barbara Gordon in the Killing Joke – the end of the book (written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland) was possibly even MORE divisive! The two men standing in the rain laughing at a silly joke is intentionally provocative, but certainly memorable.

58. Doctor Erdel reached out and touched someone (Detective Comics #225)

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Joe Samachson and Joe Certa deliver the iconic origin of the Manhunter from Mars!!

55 Comments

funkygreenjerusalem

July 25, 2010 at 4:57 am

Whoa, the re-coloured Killing Joke is tripping me out!

It just plain looks wrong to my eyes – such classic scenes, same action, but looking so different to how I’m used to seeing them – particularly Barbara getting shot – that’s all supposed to be red!

The Killing Joke has certainly suffered from a backlash. Alan Moore has said that he doesn’t like it and a few weeks ago Gail Simone was saying in her Twitter that she hated the book.

And while I understand their reasons, I don’t agree with them one bit. In my opinion, The Killing Joke is one of the best Joker stories ever.

I forgot about the destruction of Coast City – certainly a key turning point in Superman’s resurrection story. Of course it became the catalyst, or excuse, for Emerald Twilight, which I despised, but a big surprising twist at the time.

Two moments from the Killing Joke – will we see a third? That would be, I assume, the “first appearance” of the Joker in the flashback story. I also wonder if we will see more Kingdom Come moments – what’s sticks in my mind is the end of the third issue, with Captain Marvel confronting Superman, and then Captain Marvel’s sacrifice a little while later (“Shazam! Shazam! Shazam!”), and the image of all the dead heroes in the 4th issue.

I love the Legion of Super-Heroes and think the origin is classic, and you’ve described it perfectly with “Three young people find a calling.” Three teenagers’ stories converge in one moment that changes them and the future forever. I think it’s one of the best team origins, really.

recoloured killing joke is BEAUTIFUL.

Zor-El of Argo

July 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

Brian, you need to stop publishing reminders of how Barbara became crippled before Johns gets it in his head to undo it!

The mid-eighties to early nineties was a great time at DC. When a hero was killed or crippled or permanently lost thier hometown it was shocking because it seemed permanent. Even the re-introduction of Supergirl was fine because she wasn’t anything like Kara.

Now days when a major character gets killed I yawn and wonder how long it will take to undo it.

@The Dude: I can see Moore hating it because he hates everything, but Simone? I would have thought that if she hated it she would have reversed it. Her big break was BoP, and this story is what started Barbara’s journey to becoming Oracle.

Brian, you need to stop publishing reminders of how Barbara became crippled before Johns gets it in his head to undo it!

Johns has already thought about the concept, see Booster Gold 5. Heck, Jurgens was considering doing it via multiverse trickery during Zero Hour, but he wasn’t allowed to.

The Killing Joke is an excellent comic that people try to “retcon” into something horrible because it has come to be seen as a representative of two tendencies that big portions of Internet fandom loathes: grim and gritty comics and stories where a female supporting character is harmed to provocke a response in a male character.

It’s a little like hating an otherwise excellent work of art because at the time it was done the creator wasn’t hip to what is politically correct today.

That Alan Moore himself gives his “approval” to hate the book is the icing on the cake.

-The Legion’s origin always felt a little too simple to me, but OK.
-The destruction of Coast City was just a gimmick to get Jordan insane (and I hate how on DC they don’t mind destroying whole cities or even ENTIRE COUNTRIES and then the rest of the world acts like nothing happened) but again, it IS pretty influential.
-The crippling of Barbara Gordon bothers me on many levels, not only because it was a cheap way to retire a character, but also because it started the Joker’s downslide in quality, going from creative criminal to two-bit serial killer (I mean, a GUN? Not even a deadly toy gun, just a regular gun? Any thug could’ve done that!) And then he kills Jason Todd WITH A CROWBAR (I’m sure that will turn up here too) Feh.
-Kingdom Come is FULL of memorable moments and this is just one of them.
-Batman laughing with the Joker makes NO sense and it’s even insulting considering the asshole just crippled one of his friends. Epic Fail. (But still epic, sadly, or we wouldn’t be talking about it here.)
-Wow, Martian Manhunter’s origin was gimmicky even for the Silver Age, huh? No wonder they retconned it I think at least twice now. Still, given what a major character J’onn is I guess it goes in here.

@Dalarsco: Actually, Barb had been Oracle for a while before that, she actually made her debut as a minor character in Suicide Squad.
But yea, point taken.

I think Dalarsco meant that Simone’s big break was Birds of Prey, and that Killing Joke (which she apparently hated) was the story that started Barbara on the Oracle path.

Legion origin was simple, but unique in that it was about strangers who weren’t necessarily heroes before discovering their calling to be heroes, and to be a team. OK, I don’t know if it’s actually unique, but sufficiently different from JLA, JSA, Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, or any other group to stand out to me. And the fact that it’s simple is a reflection of the fact that it was years after the team’s creation that the origin was told. If you’re into the Legion, especially the “original” one, this story has a great feel of “small beginnings” that led to something monumental.

I believe that Gail Simone hated the book because the way Barbara was treated not as character but as a plot device, and then discarded. It would take John Ostrander on the Suicide Squad to bring the character back as Oracle.

My opinion is simply that the story wasn’t about her; it was about the Joker and Batman. I don’t think she was treated like crap like Gail Simone says. It was just another random act of violence of the Joker. But since we’re talking about a female character, then there’s the “women in the refrigerator” accusation. I personally don’t agree with it, but I can see how someone could.

@Sijo: I wouldn’t call the final scene an “epic fail”, but I agree that it’s hard to understand. My interpretation is that it was just Moore’s way of saying “these superheroes and villains, they’re all psychos anyway!”.

That scene always gives me goosebumps, though.

I think we lose sight of the fact that there’s nothing about Barbara’s injury in “Killing Joke” that inherently leads to her becoming Oracle (if you go back and try to follow it all in trade, as I have had to, you have to go straight from “Joke” to “Birds of Prey Vol. 1,” which distorts things significantly). Jon Ostrander and Kim Yale are on record saying that they set out to turn Barbara into Oracle specifically because they were so disgusted by what Moore had done to her, but presumably, were not allowed to reverse his story entirely at the time. They made lemons out of lemonade, but that doesn’t mean they were happy with the lemons to begin with. Simone’s attitude is basically the same.

In my view, the irony of it is that, had Ostrander and Yale not made something memorable and worthwhile out of Barbara’s crippled status, I’m sure it would have been reversed within the last 5 years at least, considering that almost every other character has gone back to an earlier status quo.

I think what always bothered me about the shooting of Barbara Gordon is that when she opens the door & sees the Joker the reaction shot is her just standing there staring in shock. This is Batgirl! She should have at least attempted to move, hit the Joker, something, not just stood there & been shot. Always seemed to be a major disservice to the character.

The Batman/Joker laugh has always resonated with me, in a couple ways.

For one, it’s about the two of them accepting the inevitability of their lives. They know that they’ll be fighting head to head until they kill each other. This is the point where they accept that fact. It’s one of those times where you either laugh or cry, and it’s a subtle combination of both.

It’s also sheer exhaustion. They’ve both been thru so much, physically and emotionally throughout the story, that they’re left a little loopy, even for them. A minor mental meltdown for both men. Like Norman Bates said, “we all go a little mad, sometimes”.

Zor-El of Argo

July 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Barbara didn’t have her “game-face” on at the time. She wasn’t out on the streets, in costume and looking for trouble. She was in her fathers home. For most of us, our fathers home is the safest place in the whole world even if our father isn’t a cop, which her father is. And she opened the door expecting to see her friend. You ever descend stairs with your vision obstructed and think there is one more step done than there was? Barbara finding the Joker on the other side of the door was kinda like that.

When people complain about how Barbara was treated in this story they tend to forget that Barbara was not a headliner anywhere at any time. She was part of Batman’s extended supporting cast and this is the sort of thing that happens to a hero’s supporting cast. Think of it as an occupational hazard that finally caught up to her.

Headlining heroes get to have heroic, meaningful deaths. Supporting characters get pointless, meaningless deaths. That’s just how it is. But in this case it was done really, really well.

Zor-El of Argo

July 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I like Erich’s take on the laugh. Also, if you go back and reread the whole story you’ll find that the joke was an analogy of what Batman was offering Joker. Batman was the lunatic with the flashlight, Joker was the one who thought the light would get turned off. And a direct adaptation of the classic joke about the turtle and scorpion. How could Batman not laugh at that?

@ Erich: That’s great, I never thought about that last scene like that. It makes its impact even bigger and the whole idea of the Joker that all it takes is one bad day for people to go insane gains more significance.

Well, d, a cop is not always ready to fight crime, and Batgirl wasn’t either. I think that if you get caught off-guard, the appropriate response is to be shocked. You can’t always be “on”.

Count me among the haters of the last scene and its little bonding moment between Batman and the man who’s just crippled one of his friends and tortured another. The exchange would have been very different if Batman had just gone down to Arkham one day and had the conversation through the bars on Joker’s cell door. But set when it is, it suggests an intimacy between them overcoming Batman’s anger at innocents, and friends, being hurt.

One criticism that has been leveled at Alan Moore is that his endings sometimes tend to be weak in comparison to the rest of the story. The Batman and Joker share a laugh ending to “the Killing Joke” I think is the ultimate example of that.

I have yet to read Killing Joke, but it doesn’t look to me here like Batman is enjoying his time with Joker. Isn’t he laughing along with Joker in an “i’m going to laugh with you, but then i’ll stop and you’ll realize I’m serious” way?

Let’s be honest, this is hardly the first (or the last) major female character to be stunningly violated in Alan Moore’s work. It is a recurring theme of his and it is one of his unfortunate legacies as a writer. THE KILLING JOKE is an easy example to hate on, because it takes place in a shared universe and the victim is not Moore’s own characters. So, it fits very easily into the whole “Women in Refrigerators” pattern. In fact, it fits a bit than the incident that gave the syndrome its name.

The denunciation of TKJ by Moore does not impress me much. There is rather famously no love lost between the author and DC Comics. Given that DC owns all the characters it features and the copyright, I am guessing that any lost sales are not taking any money out of Moore’s pockets. More to the point, the shocking violation of a female character set up the third act of the most recent volume of creator owned LEAGUE OF EXTRA-ORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

53. The LoSH origin is not a great sequence, especially for as late as it came in the Silver Age. It provides scant motivation for the characters to become heroes and makes a very slight connection to Superboy and Supergirl. It is a testament to the singular devotion of LoSH fandom to its continuity that it stuck.

54. This is another weak piece of story-telling that is more memorable for its consequences that its own merits. Was the Death of Superman leading to Cyborg Cyborg leading to the Destruction of Coast City leading to Emerald Twilight the first example of one of these shocking mega-events? It seems possible.

55. Joker’s assault of Barbara Gordon is memorable both for what it is and how it is done. It accidently gave Oracle a “second origin” that is right up there with the classics. Babs has a unique perspective on super-crime as a victim. Her building of the Oracle identity is a nice inversion of Batman’s own origin. I wish that every trip to the proverbial fridge yielded something that rich.

56. Mark Waid and Alex Ross made such an awesome team. It is a shame they apparently did not get along. This a fantastic entrance for Superman. It feels huge and mythic.

57. I have never known how to feel about the anti-climax of THE KILLING JOKE. On the one hand, it was inventive and speaks to the unique relationship between Batman and the Joker. On the other hand, it really dishonors what just happened to Barbara Gordon. Either way, it was pretty clearly Moore’s farewell to the DCU.

58. This is a case where a later version of the origin is so clearly superior to the original telling that I would suggest Darwyn Cooke’s take from NEW FRONTIER. Still, you gotta love J’onn J’onzz.

funkygreenjerusalem

July 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I don’t think she was treated like crap like Gail Simone says. It was just another random act of violence of the Joker. But since we’re talking about a female character, then there’s the “women in the refrigerator” accusation.

Yeah, it’s odd to hold it against the story – it wasn’t Moore who decided she could never recover.

One criticism that has been leveled at Alan Moore is that his endings sometimes tend to be weak in comparison to the rest of the story. The Batman and Joker share a laugh ending to “the Killing Joke” I think is the ultimate example of that.

How is that a weak ending?

Heck, who complains that Moore has weak endings?

I think Batman laughing at the Joker’s joke about insanity is a great ending.
Especially the middle panel where it looks less like happily laughing, and more like desperate howls of laughter, as it’s too painful to do anything else.
The two characters have never seemed more aware of their own roles in each others lives, which is what the whole book is about.

funkygreenjerusalem

July 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

More to the point, the shocking violation of a female character set up the third act of the most recent volume of creator owned LEAGUE OF EXTRA-ORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

That’s totally besides the point – Moore doesn’t disown the work because of what happened to Barbara, he doesn’t like it because it was just about how Batman and Joker are two sides of the same coin, and as they are both fictional characters, he feels it was a rather pointless story.
No hypocrisy there.

Moore dislikes it because of it’s lack of thematic content, other people dislike it because it offs a character they like.

@ FGJ:

Maybe I could have made my point clearer.

It is my assertion that THE KILLING JOKE is an easy story to throw under the bus. Alan Moore does not profit from it, nor is it one of the keystones of his reputation. So, it is easy for him to disown.

In choosing a disavowed work, Gail Simone made a low-cost critique of The Master. Its orphan status makes it an easy vehicle to talk about what is really a large trend in Moore’s work. Taken in isolation, Barbara Gordon getting shot is totally defensible. Taken in the context of the shocking number of actual and metaphorical rapes that Moore puts his female leads through, it feels a bit skeevy. Combined with that and the industry wide trends, it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Had Simone ripped the almost equally problematic LOEG: CENTURY, I am guessing that Moore might have fired back. That would have made for an interesting debate.

I could swear I’ve read in a few places – possible even in Comic Book Legends Reavealed – that “The Killing Joke” was written and published as an out-of-continuity story. And that, since Barbara Gordon didn’t appear in comics very often at the time, it was a while before she actually showed up in a wheelchair and it officially became in continuity (and when I it was say “a while,” it might only have been a few months – I forget – but you didn’t have Babs in a hospital bed or wheelchair turning up in six different comics within a week of when it came out like you might today), which Alan Moore didn’t approve of.

Personally, I’m kind of torn, because Barbara Gordon is probably my favorite DC character who’s currently active. I’d love to see what Gail Simone would do with Barbara as Batgirl, but she’s great as Oracle too, and she may well have faded into obscurity if “The Killing Joke” hadn’t writers people to start using her in stories again, and I’d hate for her to lose the unique role she has as Oracle in the DCU. Although if a Barbara Batgirl from Earth-53 or something wants to move to the DCU and join the Birds of Prey, that would be the best thing ever and I don’t care if it would make the blogosphere roll its collective eyes so hard that anyone standing near a college campus would hear a sound like distant thunder.

I could swear I’ve read in a few places – possible even in Comic Book Legends Reavealed – that “The Killing Joke” was written and published as an out-of-continuity story. And that, since Barbara Gordon didn’t appear in comics very often at the time, it was a while before she actually showed up in a wheelchair and it officially became in continuity (and when I it was say “a while,” it might only have been a few months – I forget – but you didn’t have Babs in a hospital bed or wheelchair turning up in six different comics within a week of when it came out like you might today), which Alan Moore didn’t approve of.

In my book, Was Superman a Spy?, I address that legend (to make a long story short, it was meant to be in continuity from the get go).

I’ve always thought the Killing Joke was a horrible story and part of the reason why I’ve never bought into the genius that’s Alan Moore that and the lackluster ending to Watchmen. It’s pretty much one of the most disturbing and disgusting comics i’ve ever read and truly serves no real purpose aside from whatever twisted thoughts were going through Moore’s head at the time.

“@Sijo: I wouldn’t call the final scene an “epic fail”, but I agree that it’s hard to understand. My interpretation is that it was just Moore’s way of saying “these superheroes and villains, they’re all psychos anyway!”.

“Also, if you go back and reread the whole story you’ll find that the joke was an analogy of what Batman was offering Joker. Batman was the lunatic with the flashlight, Joker was the one who thought the light would get turned off. And a direct adaptation of the classic joke about the turtle and scorpion. ”

ZorEl’s take is the closest to how I interpret it. People tend to remember TKJ for the shooting of Barb and the ending (or at least, that’s the focus). The start of the story (when Batman visits Arkham to offer the Joker help) is probably the point to reference at the end. It also helps to try to see it from Joker’s point of view (if such a thing is possible).

Batman offers help, but the help offered isn’t out of friendship or trust; the help is offered to rehabilitate a psycho. Reading the relationship this way is important; Joker can’t trust Batman to be there. From Joker’s perspective, Batman is offering the flashlight (the help), but Batman would turn off the light (stop the help) when Joker was halfway across (partially rehabilitated). So Joker can’t accept that offer; it’s hollow. It’s almost like he calls Batman’s bluff, and Batman, briefly, sees it from Joker’s perspective (hence the laughing).

Personally, I like it, but only because this book has a Joker doing all the despicable things he usually does, but you feel for the character on some level because he’s beyond help. Moore does a ton to draw comparisons between Batman and the Joker. Joker’s fun house mirror speech, for example, analogizes the idea of “one bad day” changing both men forever while also taking place in front of fun house mirrors, which serve as distortions of the person looking at them (Batman a distortion of the Joker and vice versa). Batman has found a way to make sense of his world (though by any stretch, the solution itself is insane); Joker can’t so the only way out is to lash out at the senselessness of it all. I almost feel bad for the Joker…almost.

I agree with you for the most part, EJ. The Killing Joke was great when I was fourteen. And I always remember how one of my friends at the time insisted that the Joker was being strangled and killed by Batman in that last scene. Now TKJ just strikes me as being pointlessly vile. I enjoy lots of other Moore stuff, though.

The Killing Joke is the worst thing I’ve read by Alan Moore. The ending shows a total lack of respect for the character of Batman, and gave the tedious ‘Batman is as crazy as his enemies!!!’ viewpoint real traction for the first time. It also marked the point where the Joker became boring.

I’m not crazy about THE KILLING JOKE’s ending, but wasn’t it the whole point of the story? That the pair could share a laugh because they’re both crazy, two sides of the same coin, etc.?

That’s my impression, anyway. Namely, that Moore crafted the story to lead Batman and the Joker to that very moment. And not that he tacked on a problematical ending because he couldn’t think of anything better.

Rob – I totally agree, Moore came up with a story and twisted Batman completely out of character in order to shoehorn him into it. That’s my problem with it.

figured some moments of the killing joke would pop up on the list. mostly the joker shooting babs. the ending was stupid batman laughing with the joker after all he did int he story instead of trying to beat the junk out of him. though it did prove how truely evil and deranged the joker truely is. the destruction of coast city was the begining of rebuilding Hal as a hero again. and nice to see a moment from kingdom come.

I’m one of those people who didn’t like Killing Joke. I could deal with it as an alternate universe tale, but not as in-continuity. It, along with Death in the Family, really ruined the Joker somewhat as a long-term villain. He just lost all subtlety and became crude, obvious and utterly without nuance. And worse is how it started the modern trend of people claiming Batman and Joker are “two sides of the same coin,” or share some kind of twisted kinship of insanity. Now it’s just become gospel among creators and fans.

I don’t want to read Batman comics that imply or state that Batman shares some kind of spiritual brotherhood with the Joker. As far as I’m concerned, Batman has traditionally and unambiguously been the polar OPPOSITE of the Joker for most of his existence.

i recently came across something, dunno where, suggesting that bats had killed joker as the laugh died and the camera panned away. if you look at it a second, that interpretation also works!

I’ve looked at it two times, and in one I feel like Batman beat the hell out of Joker off panel, and another time I feel like they just laughed and then both went their separate ways. I can’t tell without actually reading the whole story.

Zor-El of Argo

July 26, 2010 at 2:20 pm

@ Vichus

Batman and Joker had just finished a long fight scene. The Joker used up all the tricks up his sleeve and Batman blocked his escape at every turn. And yes, Bats did knock him around some. However, Gordon had asked Batman rather insistantly to bring Joker in “by the book,” so rather than delivering the ass-whipping everyone expected Batman went back to offering the Joker help so that they could avoid eventually killing each other. That offer leads into the pages shown here.

When you read the whole story it makes a lot more sense.

I definitely need to quit dragging on reading this.

"O" the Humanatee!

July 26, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Sijo:

I hate how on DC they don’t mind destroying whole cities or even ENTIRE COUNTRIES and then the rest of the world acts like nothing happened

I couldn’t agree more. As I’ve mentioned at other times or places, Grant Morrison’s destruction of Montevideo, Uruguay, in JLA bothered the heck out of me, not least because a friend of mine is married to a woman from Montevideo. It felt like Morrison was treating the residents – admittedly, the fictional residents – of a real city as what I call “narrative cannon fodder” rather than as people. I confess to some hypocrisy here: I’m not bothered by the destruction waged on my hometown of New York in a gazillion Marvel Comics; OTOH, until Civil War and World War Hulk, Marvel permitted suspension of disbelief with respect to whether anyone was _really_ hurt in all the mayhem. Also, I’ve never minded the destruction of entire alien worlds by Galactus – perhaps because the relationship of those worlds to any reality we know is tenuous at best.

Sijo:

The crippling of Barbara Gordon bothers me on many levels, not only because it was a cheap way to retire a character, but also because it started the Joker’s downslide in quality, going from creative criminal to two-bit serial killer….

T:

I’m one of those people who didn’t like Killing Joke. I could deal with it as an alternate universe tale, but not as in-continuity. It, along with Death in the Family, really ruined the Joker somewhat as a long-term villain. He just lost all subtlety and became crude, obvious and utterly without nuance.

I view these points in a slightly different way: What bothered me is that once the Joker crippled Barbara and killed Jason (wait, no! now we know he didn’t! hurrah!), he was now a _real_ killer. The Joker had certainly been shown as a killer, even a mass killer, before – but only of people who served as narrative cannon fodder, not people we as readers knew and cared about. Crippling Barbara and killing Jason left little room for the Joker to ever return to being the old-fashioned “clown prince of crime” with crazy but not murderous gimmicks. Even if that’s not right for the current moment in comics, it’s not an option that should be written off so strongly.

Still, I agree with lots of people that Barbara has been a much stronger character as Oracle than she was as Batgirl.

Smokescreen:

The start of the story (when Batman visits Arkham to offer the Joker help) is probably the point to reference at the end. It also helps to try to see it from Joker’s point of view (if such a thing is possible).

Batman offers help, but the help offered isn’t out of friendship or trust; the help is offered to rehabilitate a psycho. Reading the relationship this way is important; Joker can’t trust Batman to be there. From Joker’s perspective, Batman is offering the flashlight (the help), but Batman would turn off the light (stop the help) when Joker was halfway across (partially rehabilitated). So Joker can’t accept that offer; it’s hollow. It’s almost like he calls Batman’s bluff, and Batman, briefly, sees it from Joker’s perspective (hence the laughing).

This is the best description I’ve read of how those final moments – which I certainly didn’t get or like when I read The Killing Joke – might make sense. I’d have to reread it to see if it hangs together.

I did just notice something related to the “flashlight” joke: In the final panels we see a white line – a beam from one of the oncoming police cars? (it’s rather narrow for that) – interrupted by some dirt. The white line looks like a flashlight beam, while the dirt interrupts it: the beam is interrupted, corresponding more or less to the breaking of the “rope” by turning off the flashlight in the joke. Then the dirt is washed away by the rain, connecting the “beam,” joining the two characters in the joke, or Batman and the Joker. Finally everything disappears except the rain, dissolving all difference.

This reminds me of something I think of as both one of Moore’s greatest strengths and one of his greatest weaknesses: his rather obsessive preference for formal devices over more organic ways of telling a story. Sometimes this impresses me greatly (I love Promethea #12), but at other times it comes across as emotionally cold.

@Dean: I’ve never noticed the “shocking number of actual and metaphorical rapes that Moore puts his female leads through,” though now that you mention it, I can think of a good number. It’s interesting, given that Moore is one of the most sex-positive writers out there. Of course, if one takes the position that rape is about power, not sex, there’s no contradiction there. When I think of a writer who really puts female characters through the wringer (if not necessarily overt rape), the one who most comes to mind is Chris Claremont. Narratively he does it to transform or empower the characters, but there’s something very bothersome about it.

Zor-El of Argo
July 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I like Erich’s take on the laugh. Also, if you go back and reread the whole story you’ll find that the joke was an analogy of what Batman was offering Joker. Batman was the lunatic with the flashlight, Joker was the one who thought the light would get turned off. And a direct adaptation of the classic joke about the turtle and scorpion. How could Batman not laugh at that?
——
This is how I read it, too. What kind of “help” can you get from a guy who dresses like a bat? To the Joker, Batman’s just as crazy as he is. And Batman, in his physically and emotionally spent state, can only laugh at the joke’s kernel of truth.

Then they both start guffawing in case you didn’t get the “they’re two crazy sides of the same crazy coin” angle.

I read this as a kid and adored it, so it’s hard to view it now as an objective comic fan. (Heck, I remember drawing and re-drawing all the awesome expressions Boland drew for Joker.) But I can see how it might be disappointing if I read it for the first time today. Then again, the “Batman is also crazy” angle has been done to death, and probably improved upon in Arkham. It’s like the first Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler comedy you see–it’s hilarious and fresh, but after seeing 10 different iterations of it, you can’t imagine what you liked in the first place. Sometimes you can’t go back again.

I’ll put my hand up as one who has ALWAYS loved The Killing Joke, if for no other reason than it combines the talents of comicdom’s best ever artist and writer (re-colour it all you want, Bolland’s art remains unsurpassed).

TKJ is essentially an extended essay on sanity v madness, and how sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Those who carp about the characterisation of Batman are missing the point – this is THE JOKER’S story, and his viewpoint dominates. Moore gives the Joker an origin every bit as iconic (and even more poignant) than Batman, then poses the simple question: given the terrible things that happened, wasn’t insanity a logical – even ‘sane’ – response? The Joker has already decided that Batman is “loony as lightbulb-battered bug” which is why he tries to drive Jim Gordon mad, Gordon being the epitome of sanity and ‘normality’ throughout Batman’s entire history. That the plan fails is the trigger for the Joker’s brief moment of rationality, offering the faint hope of a reconciliation that doesn’t happen because the Joker is too far gone to again face the horrors that destroyed his mind. The ending joke is a “Xmas in the trenches” moment – a flash of empathy between two arch-enemies who shared destiny can only mutual destruction. In that sense, you could accuse it of being cliche, but it’s so masterfully done you don’t even notice.

The Joker-Batman duality presented here tied in beautifully with Miller’s take in The Dark Knight Returns, and led seamlessly into the further psychosis of Arkham Asylum – these three tales establishing the basis of their dynamic as we understand it today.

I view these points in a slightly different way: What bothered me is that once the Joker crippled Barbara and killed Jason (wait, no! now we know he didn’t! hurrah!), he was now a _real_ killer. The Joker had certainly been shown as a killer, even a mass killer, before – but only of people who served as narrative cannon fodder, not people we as readers knew and cared about. Crippling Barbara and killing Jason left little room for the Joker to ever return to being the old-fashioned “clown prince of crime” with crazy but not murderous gimmicks. Even if that’s not right for the current moment in comics, it’s not an option that should be written off so strongly.

I agree, from this point on the relationship between Batman and Joker became way too personal, which ruined much of the dynamic.

@ “O” the Humanatee!:

It’s interesting, given that Moore is one of the most sex-positive writers out there. Of course, if one takes the position that rape is about power, not sex, there’s no contradiction there.

Alan Moore is a huge talent. He is pre-occupied with the idea of power and (as you mention) a very good writer on the subject of sex. The subject of sexualized violence was inevitable.

However, not everyone reads a work in the manner the author intended. An awful lot of readers seem to have gotten a sadistic and/or misogynistic thrill out of Moore’s work. Some of those readers, in turn, became comic book writers and/or artists and/or editors.

In that regard, THE KILLING JOKE was much, much more influential than WATCHMEN, or V FOR VENDETTA, or any of his more major work. Creating an intricate murder mystery is hard work, but showing gruesome violence done to a well-known character is easy.

I agree, from this point on the relationship between Batman and Joker became way too personal, which ruined much of the dynamic.

I think Moore did the superhero genre a real service in starting to ask fundamental questions. The major in THE KILLING JOKE is why is there an invisible divide between the private world of the superhero and their public identity. If the Joker is loose, then why can’t he show up Commissioner Gordon’s house and shoot Barbara?

It is an interesting question.

The problem with answering a question like that in continuity is that some genre elements are structural and others are not. Pulling a structural element out of the genre recipe can cause the suspension of disbelief to collapse. The reader starts asking natural follow-up questions that make a plausible, on-going story nearly impossible to tell. Piercing the protective veil between the public and private worlds of the superhero was risky. It closed off a whole host of story options for Batman and The Joker, but it did open up others.

What was more fundamentally destabilizing were the lasting physical effects on Barbara and the implied progression forward in time. The relative ages of the characters have slowly become totally askew.

The second half of the above was directed at T.

“However, not everyone reads a work in the manner the author intended. An awful lot of readers seem to have gotten a sadistic and/or misogynistic thrill out of Moore’s work. Some of those readers, in turn, became comic book writers and/or artists and/or editors.”

I can just imagine if George Orwell were a comic book writer, and “1984″ had inspired a lot of comics about dictatorships.

People then would demand a ban on depictions of dictatorships in fiction, and would call anyone depicting a dictatorship a hater of democracy that has a sexual fetish about authority?

Merely depicting violence against women in fiction does not mean the author is misogynistic. And a good portion of the fans who denounce these writers aren’t particularly bothered because the women are victims anyway, they just dislike serious violence in comics in general.

The problem with answering a question like that in continuity is that some genre elements are structural and others are not. Pulling a structural element out of the genre recipe can cause the suspension of disbelief to collapse. The reader starts asking natural follow-up questions that make a plausible, on-going story nearly impossible to tell. Piercing the protective veil between the public and private worlds of the superhero was risky. It closed off a whole host of story options for Batman and The Joker, but it did open up others.

I agree. But the problem to me is that the story options it opened up for Batman and the Joker are vastly inferior to the story options it closed off. Most of the story options opened up by piercing that veil focus on highlighting and amplifying Batman’s impotence. Now more than ever Batman’s tolerance of an ever-escaping Joker looks like weakness. We have to keep getting sequences where Batman is *this* close to killing the Joker asd he reminesces on Jason, Barbara and Gordon’s wife but gets talked out of it by a supporting cast member. Lots of sequences of Batman getting hit by Scarecrow gas and reliving his worst failures. Joker mocking Batman while Batman is powerless to kill him. And so on and so on…

Marvel recently did something similar to Spider-Man by having him be so tolerant of Norman Osborn running around free and unpunished for killing Gwen Stacy for so long.

I agree with T.

Big-name supervillains shouldn’t be allowed to kill or maim important supporting characters and get away with it.

Gerry Conway had the right idea when he killed Norman Osborn soon after Gwen Stacy.

@ Rene:

I can just imagine if George Orwell were a comic book writer, and “1984″ had inspired a lot of comics about dictatorships.

People then would demand a ban on depictions of dictatorships in fiction, and would call anyone depicting a dictatorship a hater of democracy that has a sexual fetish about authority?

Merely depicting violence against women in fiction does not mean the author is misogynistic. And a good portion of the fans who denounce these writers aren’t particularly bothered because the women are victims anyway, they just dislike serious violence in comics in general.

Understood.

From my perspective, the problem is less extreme violence in superhero comics than extreme violence in a shared, inter-connected universe. Having the daughter of your best friend shot and sexually humiliated by a mutual acquaintance is something that would change the course of your life. So would having your student beaten to death by the same person. Telling a remotely plausible story featuring either of those events would pretty much require a long period of reflection and some major life changes for our hero.

However, the grind of monthly comics does not allow Bruce Wayne to spend six months at Lake Cumo drinking green tea and pondering his life choices. The next issue of Batman is coming regardless and “More Brooding” is not an enticing cover blurb. As a result, there are certain events that just cannot be depicted with the respect they deserve.

That does not mean they should never be depicted (or “banned”). It just means that they require extra effort on the part of the creators maintain a suspension of disbelief around moments of extreme violence. That necessary effort is seldom forthcoming when the real author of the story is an editorial retreat, or when the event itself is written by someone other than the person dealing with its aftermath.

I agree. But the problem to me is that the story options it opened up for Batman and the Joker are vastly inferior to the story options it closed off. Most of the story options opened up by piercing that veil focus on highlighting and amplifying Batman’s impotence. Now more than ever Batman’s tolerance of an ever-escaping Joker looks like weakness. We have to keep getting sequences where Batman is *this* close to killing the Joker asd he reminesces on Jason, Barbara and Gordon’s wife but gets talked out of it by a supporting cast member. Lots of sequences of Batman getting hit by Scarecrow gas and reliving his worst failures. Joker mocking Batman while Batman is powerless to kill him. And so on and so on…

Agreed.

I wonder how THE KILLING JOKE would be regarded if Moore had stayed another few years at DC. Maybe he and Brian Bolland would have done a half dozen Prestige Formated spotlights on various DC villains. My guess is that Barbara Gordon would have be back in her Batgirl costume and it would be considered a fairly minor work in Moore’s catalog.

Regarding the Batman/Joker laughing at the end of The Killing Joke, wasn’t there an issue of I think Showcase, which showed the beginning of Barbara Gordon’s creation of Oracle, where she actually had tore into Batman for sharing a laugh with the Joker? Or am I remembering it wrong?

Batman (Bruce Wayne) has taken time off before, Dean.

52 had Batman, Supes and WW take a year off to reflect.

52 had Batman, Supes and WW take a year off to reflect.

Yeah, but we saw very little of them during that time, and the whole while they were in the One Year Later comics. Inside the story they took time off, but I don’t know that it felt like they took any time off to the reader.

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